Tuesday, July 17, 2018

'South London and Negro Emancipation' - 1863 anti-Slavery meeting at the Elephant & Castle

Events in the last few years have reminded us that there is still a lot of unfinished business from the American Civil War. The flag of the defeated Southern states is still a rallying point for racists, and since the start of the Black Lives Matters movement Confederate statues have been a  renewed focus of controversy.  Race and specifically slavery were at the heart of the rebellion of the South, something that was recognised worldwide at the time. Following President Lincoln's anti-slavery Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Karl Marx famously drafted an Address to Lincoln on behalf of the International Workingmen's Association.

Mass meetings were held across Britain in support, including one at the Elephant and Castle, as reported in the South London Chronicle (7 February 1863) under the headline  'South London and Negro Emancipation': 'On Tuesday evening [3 February 1863]  a public meeting of the inhabitants of South London was held at Taylor's Depository, near the Elephant and Castle, for the purpose of expressing sympathy with the cause of negro emancipation in the United States. The working classes, whom the bills specially invited to attend, mustered in such large numbers that it was found necessary to hold another meeting outside'.

The meeting was chaired by a Mr W J Haynes and the Rev. Mr Barker moved the resolution 'That this meeting heartily unites in the general joy and thanksgiving which have been called forth by the proclamation issued by the President of the United States on the 1st of January 1863 declaring "then, thenceforward and forever free" more than three million slaves' and that this decree 'entitles Mr Lincoln to the sympathy and the moral support of the friends of freedom throughout the world'.

Mr G. Thompson told the meeting that 'The rebellion, which now convulsed America, was simply and exclusively a slaveholders' rebellion... all the officers of the rebel army were slaveholders, and it was for their profit that this rebellion had taken place'. The Rev. J. H. Ryland 'created a great sensation by narrating several harrowing tales of cruelty perpetrated by Southern planters on their slaves'.

Taylor's Depository was next to the Metropolitan Tabernacle on corner of St George's Road
(site today of the London College of Communication)
Taylor's Depository was a removal company and warehouse, but the building seemingly also included a lecture hall: 'In consequence of the number of people outside being fully equal to the number which had got crammed into the spacious Lecture Hall of the building, and as this immense multitude seemed determined not to separate until they heard something in respect of the question which had called them together, means were adopted to convert a portion of the lower area into a place of meeting; but, as the  space so appropriated could only contain about half the number anxious to gain admission, the other half had to listen as best they could to what was said in the open air outside the buildng'. People 'stood patiently in the open air for over two hours and a half'.

The outdoor meeting was presided over by Mr Sarrell who gave an eyewitness account of slavery in the Southern States based on his travels there. He was a vesrtyman from St George's, the church in Borough High Street.

Copies of the resolution were forwarded to Lincoln's office via the American minister (ambassador), along with similar resolutions from other meetings - the letter to Washington is included in published diplomatic correspondence.  Earlier, on 12th December 1862,  'a crowded meeting assembled at the Lambeth Baths, Westminster Road, to express sympathy with the anti-slavery party in America, the chair being occupied by the Rev. Newman Hall. The meeting was addressed by the Chairman, Mr Murphy, Mr Evans, Mr George Thompson, Mr Law, Mr Parkes, the Rev J H Rylance (who attended as a deputation from the Emancipation Society), Mr Huntingdon, Mr Maxwell, the Rev W Hawkins, Mr F W Chesson, and William Andrew Jackson, late Jefferson Davis' coachman. Resolutions in favour of the Federal Government were unanimously adopted' (Anti-Slavery Reporter, 1st January 1863). Another 'crowded meeting' was held at the same venue on the 19th of February  1863 (Anti-Slavery Reporter, March 6 1863).

The William A. Jackson referred to above had worked as a slave in the household of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. After escaping and fleeing to the north he was able to provide detailed information to the Union on Confederate plan, having often been present while Davis and officials were talking.

I assume the Rev J H Rylance at the Lambeth meeting was the same person as Rev J H Ryland at the Southwark meeting. Rylance was at one time the vicar of St Paul's Church in Westminster Bridge Road.

(thanks to John Levin/Anterotesis for spotting the South London Chronicle article)